Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 28, 2005
Cultivate asceticism in your life
Lent gives us the spiritual space to fast and pray
By JOSEPH HOGAN
Special to the WCR
Asceticism is a beginning. Another beginning is conversion. I am addressing an adult experience or a coming to a deeper faith after Baptism as an infant.
This kind of conversion, sometimes called the “second conversion” may come slowly or over a period of time. When the person says, “yes” to God and his ways, “yes” to Christ, it may be said that life is just beginning. Our Lord at this point plants the seed of faith and it becomes necessary for us to cultivate it and make it grow. This is asceticism.
St. John Climacus
A great monk of the past was St. John Climacus who wrote from Mount Sinai Monastery in Egypt. His noted book was the Ladder of Divine Ascent, still being published in English editions.
The dictionary definition of asceticism is rather good. “Greek askesis, “exercise” is the practice of self-denial and renunciation of worldly pleasure in order to attain a higher degree of spirituality.” The Catholic monks of the West coined the term, ‘Agere Contra’ which means to “Go Against”. So a person has a false desire, they go against this false desire for a higher purpose. All this is not easy or comfortable.
Here are a few thoughts from St. John Climacus which I shall give without comment.
“He who has become the servant of the Lord will fear his master alone, but he who does not yet fear him is often afraid of his own shadow” (Step 21).
“People of high spirit bear offence nobly and gladly; but only holy people and saints can pass through praise without harm” (Step 22).
“He who refuses reproof shows his pride, but he who accepts it is free from this fetter” (Step 23).
“Repentance raises the fallen, mourning knocks at the gate of heaven, and holy humility opens it; but I affirm this and worship Trinity in Unity, and Unity in Trinity” (Step 25).
“While struggling against all the passions, let us who are in communities struggle every hour, especially against these two: greed of stomach and irritability” (Step 4).
“Those who aim at ascending with the body to heaven, need violence indeed and constant suffering especially in the early stages of renunciation, until our pleasure-loving dispositions and unfeeling hearts attain to Love of God and chastity by visible toil.
“A great toil, very great indeed, with much unseen suffering, especially for those who live carelessly, until by simplicity, deep angerlessness and diligence, we make our mind, which is a greedy kitchen dog addicted to barking, a lover of chastity and watchfulness.
“But let us who are weak and passionate have the courage to offer our infirmity and natural weakness to Christ with unhesitating faith, and confess it to him, and we shall be certain to obtain his help, even beyond our merit, if only we unceasingly go right down to the depth of humility” (Step 1).
Catherine de Hueck Doherty urged lay apostles and evangelists to fast and pray.
“I could only do this . . . enter the marketplace . . . if I prayed and fasted. . . . . In our days when everybody is catering to the appetites of the flesh, in our days when the senses rule as if they were God, it is time that we should fast as well as pray. The Lord fasted quite a bit and we should follow in his footsteps” (Journey To The Risen Christ, pp. 41).
Asceticism may be said to be linked to self-control. Christian asceticism is much more however and based on and rooted in love-agape.
From God's heart
Romano Guardini explains: “Love is actually portrayed as Christian sobriety, but a sobriety which has nothing to do with barrenness of heart or narrowness of mind. If it gives significance to the ‘charismata’ (Gifts of the Holy Spirit) it must come from the heart of God, from the operation of the Holy Spirit. It must be moderation in fullness, the ‘sober intoxication of the Spirit’, an attitude which in its serene self-control, its faithfulness and strength is incomparably greater, deeper and richer than all that is unusual” (The Word of God, pp. 94).
The rich reward of asceticism is friendship with God. ‘The Lord’s friendship is for those who revere him; to them he reveals his covenant” (Psalm 24:14). “To men (Wisdom) is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them.” (Wisdom 7:14)
A new and creative life comes from asceticism and the ascetic person is a strong person. Asceticism opens the door to strengthening graces and to the One who gives all grace, the Father of mercies. The clarity of self-discipline makes one like the holy angels. Then with Christ the person may climb the highest mountain of desire and be satisfied, “Blessed are the pure of heart as they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
(Joseph Hogan is a member of the Madonna House apostolate and is based at Marian Centre, Edmonton.)